Amid growing troubles for sports officials, new legislation is aimed at giving them more protection.
Across the nation, referees are getting caught up as fans get more and more out of hand.
Although none rose to a criminal level, Owensboro High School had to eject fans no fewer than five different times for unruly behavior.
“Often times, the fans get personal. They’ll know the officials names. They’ll call them out by name. They’ll get very specific,” explained Owensboro High’s Athletics Director Todd Harper.
The problem with fans acting out toward officials goes even beyond simple trash talk. So legislation has been introduced in Kentucky’s General Assembly upping the penalties for infractions.
“Any type of rule, legislation, statute, law, anything that is passed that is going to help our officials to feel safer, to discourage unruly behavior we are 100 percent behind,” Harper continued.
The bill would classify assaulting a sports official as a Class D felony, and major intimidation a misdemeanor.
Under current Kentucky statutes, assaulting an official is a misdemeanor.
But the issue goes past even the referees catching flack, with parents and players also facing the brunt of bad behavior.
“One of my children actually gets kinda frustrated,” relayed Emory Haire, a parent of student-athletes at Owensboro High. “It makes the players uncomfortable hearing fans yelling from the stands. It makes them wonder what’s going on or what’s going to happen next.”
The concern for referee safety isn’t just in anticipation of an incident.
Earlier this year, a West Kentucky official was put in the hospital with severe injuries after he was beaten by a Michigan coach.
And cell phone video captured a brawl at a Kentucky middle school involving fans, referees and coaches.
For Owensboro High’s athletic director it comes as no surprise to him that referees are saying they have to watch not just the plays but the crowd too.
“States should have special laws protecting the officials. A lack of young men and woman coming into the officiation ranks and part of the reason is things like this,” explained Kentucky referee George Yoffie.
While still under debate, the bill’s introduction highlights the severity of the issue for those in the stands or calling on the sidelines.